How Dad Influenced my Communication Style

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My Dad spent decades in the US Air Force collecting and communicating US military intelligence. His communication style had a lot of influence over me. Now, before the oxymoron digs start flying, let me tell you, folks who deal in military intelligence have impressive communication skills. Which, to my eye, is evidence of impressive intelligence.

Here’s what my father’s communication style taught me.

The best communications are:

1. Brief

No chatter in cockpit,” I’ve heard Dad say (he flew B52s in the 60s).

When you’re at 30,000 feet and your starboard wingtip is 6 feet from Soviet airspace, or refueling in midair at 500 MPH by connecting with another aircraft flying 50 feet above you, (in wartime, in a storm, above the middle of the Pacific) the only thing that should ever come out of your mouth is relevant, useful information. I’ll talk more about relevance in a bit. The point here is to recognize the superfluous and kill it. Resist the temptation to speak in metaphors, add context or color, frame and re-frame and re-frame and then re-frame again (like we marketers just love to do).

Just the facts, Jack — that’s what Dad taught me. Who knew that one day I would grow up to write for this crazy thing called the Internet where every syllable — indeed every pixel counts? Dad’s minimalist style comes in handy when creating web content.

2. Strong

Here’s an example I like of brief, but strong. When the request came in (after it was decoded, of course): ENEMY AGENT COMING TO OUR SIDE. CAN YOU RETRIEVE @ 8°39′ N 16°51′ E OCT 2 13:00? Dad pulled out his charts and looked up the coordinates (somewhere in Africa — yes, the Cold War was fought on every grain of sand on this planet), made a flight plan, checked his watch, and responded with these two syllables: “CAN DO”.

What I like about this example is that while YES would have been fewer syllables, CAN DO is more affirmative. It gives the requester more confidence that his needs will be met. YES leaves a little room for interpretation … was that a YES with a heavy sigh? Was that a resentful YES? CAN DO just doesn’t have those problems.

3. Data Driven

We marketers don’t know from big data. The Military has the big data thing down. I would argue that militaries live, eat, and breathe little else. Can’t fight a war with out some serious big data. They certainly do not make decisions without first looking at data backwards and forward and upside down. Positions, velocities, ETAs, success probabilities, supply chain logistics, forecasting scenarios — and by the way, you have to have all of this data on your competi — I mean enemy, too, if you’re the military.

So when I was about 14 and asked Dad if he would buy me these awesome shoes I saw that afternoon at the mall and was going to positively die without, silently, Dad rose from his chair, walked into my room, opened the closet and began counting shoes. “One, two, three, four, five … eleven, twelve, thirteen. No, I will not buy you a new pair of shoes.”

Sort of leaves a poor girl without a leg to stand on, yes? Backing up your point of view with a bit of data is pretty compelling. Dad’s data was so good, he could even skip crafting a point of view altogether — he just let the data speak for itself. But then again, that was his brief style.

4. Relevant

Relevant communication means giving the right information at the right time. Here’s what happened one night at the dinner table after my sister discovered the Beatles. Seventeen at the time, she began to wax on about their pure genius, about how they elevated popular music and made it so supremely more sophisticated. As she satisfyingly chewed her pork chop with the full confidence that she’d delivered a brilliant argument for her point of view, Dad picked up his plate, walked into the kitchen and tunelessly began to sing “Why don’t we do-do it in the road?”

Over the sound of the water faucet, the clanking of dishes being loaded, “Why don’t we do-do it in the road… no one will be watching us, why-y don’t we do it in the road?”

Then, twisting the knife just a tad, In falsetto: “Why don’t we do it in the road?”

Brief, strong, data-driven and relevant, that’s Dad. Okay, also a flare for humor and dramatic impact. But isn’t it marvelous how he fit all that, too, into such pithy little sound bites? It was like I had someone training me how to communicate as a digital marketer all my life and didn’t know till they invented the Internet.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for the stories!

The above first appeared in CMSWire as Lessons From Military Intelligence for Content Marketers.

My Very Own Community Superfans

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Here’s a post of mine for Lithium from 2012 on the subject of superfans.

It’s 1927. Meet three brothers from Southeastern Kansas. Lynn is away at medical school, Glen has just gone off to college. He’s pledged a fraternity and plans to major in business. Raymond is still in high school in their home town, Fredonia.

Suddenly, their father dies.

Together, the brothers decide the two key family objectives are to keep Lynn in medical school and Raymond in high school. It’s Glen who must sacrifice his education to return to Fredonia and become the sole breadwinner for the three boys and their mother. Glen secures a job as a janitor at the local bank.

Glen has a lot of good ideas (valuable content) about how to make the bank work better and offers them up to the current owner in exchange for shares (rewards). The owner agrees.

Fast forward 18 months. The market crashes, banks are failing left and right. For weeks, Glen and the current bank owner meet clandestinely at night in back alleys to strategize about how to get through the next 24 hours. They don’t want to alert the townspeople to the fact that this 20-something whippersnapper, Glen (Community Superfan #1), is really the one at the helm of their tiny flailing ship in an epic storm.

Somehow, The State Bank of Fredonia makes it through without dashing against the rocks. Lynn finishes medical school and returns to become Fredonia’s first dedicated primary care physician (Community Superfan #2). The brothers then send Raymond off to both medical school and surgical residency. Raymond returns to become Fredonia’s first surgeon (Community Superfan #3).

Throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s, every Fredonian who had a child, an illness, an injury, a checking account, a mortgage, a farm loan, or a death in the family (read: everyone) did business with the Beals. In these years, Glen owned the bank outright and spent his afternoons on the farms of his customers. A crop duster would fly overhead and Glen would say, “Mr. Green, we need to get you one of those!”

In 1952, our little janitor spoke to the US Congress and helped pass a farm bill that impacted three states. Dr. Lynn’s obituary, written in 1974 by a patient, recounted the many, many times he delivered babies for a basket of eggs or a cherry pie.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that you really can find folks in the world who are willing to contribute—even sacrifice—so enormously to benefit their community, but they are out there. At Lithium, we call them Superfans. They are the tireless, passionate, motivated brand fans who spend thousands of hours online helping others. This very small percentage of the population can drive enormous growth and real business change. Lynn, Glen and Raymond Beal were 3 passionate, committed men who affected great change in a town of about 4,500. That’s .07% (point-o-seven-percent) of the population.

Dr. Lynn was my maternal Grandfather, Glen and Raymond my great uncles. I’ll never forget the legacy they left of driving great positive change for so many, motivated simply by a culture of service—of giving back.

Yes, Virginia, there really are Superfans. They are nothing new. Humanity has been relying upon them since the dawn of time. Social software like Lithium just gives them greater reach—a chance to do more good for more people every day.